By, Phil Eastman
Have you ever been in a current that you could not overcome? Found yourself fighting against the flow of life, work or both and not been able to make any headway? No doubt we have all found ourselves in those moments. When it happens our instinct is to use more effort to overcome the flow. The rational response however is not to fight the current but rather to float for a few minutes, using our intellect to assess, plan and then move in a direction that optimizes our resources to ultimately defeat the flow.
The critical step to success is the thing that feels most threatening, to pause and reflect. I was recently working with a client undergoing a substantial number of significant changes and in the midst of our work one of the team members challenged her colleagues to pause and reflect on their situation. There were two reasons for her advice. First, tension was rising and she knew that the tension building in the room was reaching a point in which it was not going to help the group move forward. It was in essence a well placed “timeout” just like a good coach uses in a high octane basketball game when pace and frenzy have overtaken the players. The second reason she called for a pause was to reengage the most valuable tool in the room, people’s brains.
Several years ago my son and I were taking a gun safety class. The last lesson in the course was what to do if you are lost in the woods. The instructor showed a video reenactment of a man who was lost after having fallen in the water during a fall fishing trip. Cold and confused the fisherman starting walking to try to find his truck. He became confused, disoriented and eventually perished. The stunning part of the story is that he had everything in his backpack that he needed for survival. He had map, compass, matches and a thermos of hot coffee. The mistake he made was he did not pause and reflect. His brain was the most valuable tool he had at his disposal, but because he did not pause and reflect it cost him his life.
In the client meeting the leader that asked the group to pause and reflect allowed the group to break the grip of the overwhelming flow and to engage their brains to reason through the situation. Most interesting was that by slowing down the group was actually able to go faster.
Making the call for a timeout to pause and reflect requires that you:
- Stay close but keep your distance. That means being a keen observer of the team’s situation without being caught up in the frenzy.
- Keep the stress level manageable. People don’t perform their best when things are completely relaxed. At the same time too much stress is debilitating.
Leadership is often about dealing with paradox. One of the greatest of those is that sometimes we need to slow down to go fast.
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